Percy was bored.
He was sitting alone at the Poseidon table, moving things around at his plate. It was already late fall, so there were only about twenty people left at camp. Most of them were people Percy didn’t know very well. None of his friends were there. Jason stayed at Camp Jupiter, Piper lived with her father, Leo had left on a solo mission to find Ogygia and Annabeth was in collage. Even Grover was traveling the country.
Percy almost wished he had moved back in with his mother for winter, but he was twenty years old with no plans for the future, so it seemed a little pathetic. When Chiron asked him to stay at Camp Half-Blood and teach the younger ones swordplay it had seemed like an excellent idea. Except that pretty much everyone was a lot younger than him, and nothing ever happened. Percy sighed deeply.
That’s when Nico di Angelo appeared in the middle of the dining area holding a small, bloody bundle in his arms. Percy did a double take when he realized it was a baby.
“I need help,” Nico pleaded loudly, addressing all of them. Percy was almost as shocked at the words as he was about the baby, but he was still the first to react.
“Nico, what’s going on?” he asked, getting up from the table. “Whose is the kid?”
“Take her,” Nico said, handing the baby to Percy before he could protest. “I need to...I...”
Nico sank down to his knees, shaking slightly. He seemed to be struggling to stay conscious.
“I’ll take him to his cabin,” Percy said, giving the baby over to Chiron, who seemed as reluctant as Percy had been. He kneeled down beside Nico, throwing an arm around him to help him up. “Are you hurt or just exhausted?”
“Tired,” Nico muttered, struggling to keep on his feet.
“There’s blood on your hands,” Percy said, and Nico shook his head slightly.
“Not mine,” he said, and then nothing more. Percy was pretty sure Nico was already asleep by the time he got him to the Hades cabin and into bed. Despite what the boy said, Percy still examined him briefly for wounds. He couldn’t find any, even though there were a lot of blood on his hands.
The baby was crying loudly in Chiron’s arms when Percy entered the Big House. He was attempting to soothe it, but it didn’t seem to be working.
“I sent the Stoll brothers for baby supplies,” Chiron said over the crying. “Did Nico tell you who or where the mother is?”
“No, he passed out,” Percy said. “But there was a lot of blood on his hands.”
“I imagine so. This is a newborn child,” Chiron said. “I washed her clean myself just minutes ago.”
“Newborn, “ Percy repeated, stunned. “No wonder she’s so small. Can I hold her?”
“Be careful with the head,” Chiron said as he handed her over. For some reason she quieted down almost immediately in Percy’s arm. He smiled down at her.
“I guess she likes me,” he said. “Hello. I wonder where your mother is?”
“We will know when Nico wakes up,” Chiron said. “Why don’t you take care of her in the meantime. She seems calmer with you.”
Percy paled. “But I don’t know anything about babies.”
Nevertheless the child remained sleeping in Percy’s arms until the Stoll brothers returned with baby formula, diapers and clothes. Percy had just finished feeding her when Nico walked in. He still looked dead tired, but he had washed his hands, at least.
“You should be sleeping,” Percy scolded him, but Nico ignored him. He more sunk than sat down beside Percy.
“I figured you’d want to know what was going on.” Nico said, turning to Chiron. “You asked me to find a demigod who ran away from school four months ago.”
Chiron nodded. “You said the trail went cold.”
“It did. But I kept looking every now and then when I had time.” Nico said. “And I finally found her.”
“Where is she?” Percy asked, and Nico gave him a pained look.
“Waiting to be judged. She might make Elysium, I think.” he said. “She was already dying when I found her.”
He took a deep breath. “Actually, that was the reason I found her. Dying and giving life at the same time creates a very strange feeling. I was too late to save her.”
“But you managed to help her child,” Percy said, looking down at the little orphan in his arms. “What about the father?”
“As soon as I regain my strength, I will ask,” Nico said tiredly. “But she was alone, pregnant and fighting off monsters. I don’t think the father’s in the picture anymore.”
“So what will happen to the child?” Percy asked.
“She told me to take care of her. It was her last words,” Nico said. “But I can’t raise her. I need to find someone who can.”
“She’s one quarter god, right?” Percy said. “Couldn’t we raise her here at camp?”
“I think New Rome might be better suited for that,” Chiron said soberly, and Percy was honestly a bit disappointed. He was already getting attached to the little girl in his arms.
“Do we know who her godly grandparent is?” Percy asked, but Chiron shook his head.
“Only that the mother was pretty powerful.”
“It must have been one of the big ones, judging from the amount of monsters in that place,” Nico said. “She had barricaded herself into a classroom in an abandoned school building, but she must have defeated quite a few to get there.”
“Sounds like your mother was a hero,” Percy told the little girl. Nico was watching them with an uncharacteristically soft look on his face, and Percy smiled at him. “Do you want to hold her?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” he said hesitatingly, but Percy took no notice.
“Come on, man. My arms are getting tired. And Chiron makes her cry,” he said, and Nico reluctantly took the baby into his arms.
The baby looked up at Nico for a moment, wide eyed, and then promptly went to sleep. Nico looked slightly baffled, and Percy couldn’t help laughing. Seeing Nico di Angelo with a small baby in his arms was a pretty cute sight, now that the blood was washed off.
“We need to contact the Praetors of Camp Jupiter and ask them to find a host family for the child,” Chiron said.
Percy nodded. “I’ll talk to Frank later. I’m sure me and Nico can handle the baby in the meantime.”
Nico looked up at him with a strange look on his face, somewhere between a smile and a frown. “I’m sure there’s someone else who’d be more qualified...”
“Stop it. Nobody else here has children either,” Percy said. “And she’s practically yours now anyway. She probably thinks you’re her mother.”
Nico blushed, looking back down at the baby. He didn’t make any further argument.
Percy called Frank from the Poseidon cabin after forcing Nico to go back to sleep. He was sitting on the floor with the baby and Frank seemed very surprised by the sight.
“Since when do you have a kid?” he asked, and Percy laughed.
“She’s not mine. She’s an orphan. Her demigod mother just died,” he explained. “We need to find someone to take care of her. You think you could ask around New Rome for foster parents?”
“Of course. I’ll see what I can do.”
The conversation ended a bit after that, when the baby started crying. After figuring out what was wrong, Percy realized babies weren’t just adorable and cuddly. Sometimes diapers had to be changed. It wasn’t pleasant, but when the baby fell asleep in his arms again afterwards Percy figured it might be worth it.
“Percy?” a voice said, and he saw Annabeth’s face in the mist. She was frowning slightly at him, looking confused. “Whose kid is that?”
Percy told her the story. She looked sad when he’d finally finished.
"That's awful," she said. "Poor girl."
Percy nodded. “Yeah, but me and Nico can take care of her.”
She smiled a little at that. “Somehow it’s hard to picture Nico in a domestic role.”
“You might be surprised.” Percy laughed. The was a moment of silence after that. Both of them just looked at each other, unsure what to say. There never used to be moments like this between them, and Percy hated it. He was almost thankful then they were interrupted by a knock on the door, and quickly had to goodbye.
Nico was standing outside, looking more tired than when Percy had told him to go to sleep a few hours ago.
“You haven’t been resting, have you?” Percy said suspiciously as he let Nico into the cabin. Technically he wasn’t allowed in there, but nobody really cared about that anymore. Not when it came to the war heroes, anyway.
“I did, for a while. Then I spoke to Sonja Turner, the baby’s mother.”
“You should have given yourself time to regain your strength before attempting that,” Percy said, but Nico scoffed. The baby was starting to kick when she heard Nico’s voice, and Percy handed her over to him.
“Better to get it over with quickly,” he said. “Like I thought, the baby doesn’t exactly have a father. Sonja told me the little girl is my responsibility now.”
“Nico, you’re sixteen.” Percy said. “And you never stay in the same place for long. Are you going to raise her in the underworld?”
“Of course not, I’m not stupid,” Nico said. “I told you already. I’m not qualified to take care of her. Besides, I would make the worst parent ever.”
Percy looked at Nico carefully rocking the little girl to sleep. “I’m pretty sure that last part isn’t true,” he said, smiling. “Just look at you. You’ll make a wonderful father someday. Just, you know, not yet.”
“I’m never going to have kids,” Nico replied, sounding sad, but also like there was no doubt about it.
“Really? Percy asked. “Spending time with this one just makes me more convinced I want children of my own someday.”
“Of course you do,” Nico smiling wistfully down at the baby. Percy frowned.
“Why don’t you want kids?” Percy asked. “I mean, it’s okay not to, I’m just wondering why.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to.” Nico said distantly. “But it won’t happen.”
“How can you be so sure?” Percy asked. “I know you don’t have a girlfriend right now, but...”
“You’re not impotent, are you?”
“What the hell, Percy?” Nico exclaimed, his face turning red. “What kind of a question is that?”
“Sorry,” Percy said sheepishly. “You just sounded so sure you’d never have kids I thought maybe you were incapable.”
“Gods, I’m not incapable,” Nico sneered. “And I’m not having this conversation with you.”
“Then how can you be so sure?”
“Because I’m not interested in girls!” Nico snapped.
A moment passed were Percy just stared at him. The color slowly drained from Nico’s face. Then he quickly got up, stepped back into shadows and was gone. He’d taken the baby with him.
“What?” Percy asked to the empty space.
Some time later, after pretty much reassessing Nico di Angelo completely, Percy knocked on the door to the Hades cabin. He sincerely hoped Nico was in there, and not in the Underworld or at Camp Jupiter or in China.
There was no answer at the door, so Percy tried the handle and found it unlocked. At first he thought the cabin must be empty, since there was no light on. Then he heard Nico’s voice.
“Come on, man,” Percy said to the darkness. “We’re friends, right? I just want to talk to you.”
“Look, if this is about you being gay, I’m cool with it,” Percy said. “Where’s the light switch? The cabin does have one, right?”
“I’m sure you can find the door without it.”
“Don’t do this. We were finally starting to be friends again,” Percy said. “I don’t care if you like guys. I mean, it’s not like you’re attracted to me, right?”
The silence in the dark cabin was deafening, and Percy smacked himself mentally as well as physically.
“You are, aren’t you?” he said. “Shit. I’m sorry. I had no idea. I didn’t...”
“Please leave,” Nico said coldly. “Or I will.”
“Don’t you dare!” Percy said attempting to walk towards his voice. He barely made it five steps before he stumbled on something and fell down on the floor with a bang and a loud yelp. The cabin was suddenly filled with the sounds of a baby crying.
“Great, you woke her up,” Nico muttered, and then there was the click of a switch being flipped as Nico tuned on the light by his bed. He was sitting up, leaning against the wall and gently rocking the baby to calm her down.
Percy stood up, grabbed the chair he had tripped over and walked over to sit down by Nico’s bed. Nico was quietly humming a tune to get the baby to stop screaming. It seemed to be working.
“What do you want, Percy?” Nico asked when she finally calmed down.
“I just want to talk to you,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“I didn’t want anyone to know,” Nico muttered. “Besides, would it have mattered?”
“I would have been more considerate if I’d known,” Percy said uncertainly. “And nobody would have judged you.”
“People judge me all the time because of who my father is. Why wouldn’t they judge me for this?” Nico said bitterly.
“Some idiots would, sure,” Percy said. “But we’re your friends. We’d back you up.”
“You sound like Jason,” Nico scoffed.
Percy blinked. “Jason?” he repeated, slightly offended. “Are you saying you told him but not me?”
“He found out. It’s a long story,” Nico sighed. ”I made him promise not to tell anyone. And I’d rather you didn’t, either.”
“Sure,” Percy said. “But don’t you think it would be easier in the long run to just tell them.”
“No. Drop it.” Nico said determinedly, looking up at Percy for the first time since the conversation started. In his eyes Percy could see a wild mix of anger, hurt and fear. He nodded slowly.
“Fine,” he said, sitting in silence for a while. “So, did the little one’s mother give her a name?”
“No, she said she hadn’t really expected to live long enough for the baby to be born, so she didn’t think of any names,” Nico said. “She said it was up to me to decide. For some reason she seemed really determined that I should be the one to take care of her.”
“Well, you were probably pretty much the first person who tried to help her in a long time,” Percy guessed.
“But I failed. If I had found her a few minutes earlier I could have taken her to a hospital and saved her.”
“At least you were still looking. Everybody else had given up trying to find her,” Percy said gently. “Which makes me wonder why the gods didn’t try to help her. Did you find out which one’s her parent?”
“She didn’t know. Nobody ever talked to her about the whole demigod thing. She ran away before the satyr that found her in the first place had a chance to talk to her,” Nico said. “She thought she was just a freak with magical powers.”
“The gods were supposed to recognize their offsprings. That was the deal,” Percy said angrily. “I mean, she was old enough to have a child, so they’d had plenty of time.”
“Old enough...” Nico repeated. “Percy, she was fourteen.”
“The baby is probably one of the reasons she ran away in the first place,” Nico said. “Let’s not speculate about it.”
“Right, but the god should still have helped her,” Percy said. “Do you have any guesses which of the assholes it is?”
“I don’t know. Could be any of them, really,” he said. “Though I’m fairly certain it isn’t Hades. I think I’d be able to tell. Especially after the mother died.”
“I don’t think Poseidon would just have left her to her own devices either,“ Percy said. “Zeus?”
“Would explain the whole dying of childbirth thing, I guess,” Nico said. “Though that would be really low, even for Hera. Maybe Jason will know when he sees her.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Percy said. “Hey, do you seriously like me?”
"I told you to drop it.”
“For how long?”
“Fine. You want to talk about this, so let’s talk about it,” Nico said, his eyes blazing with anger. “Let’s talk about the fact that I fell for you pretty much from the moment we met. Let’s talk about how I blamed you for my sister’s death, and still couldn’t help liking you. Let’s talk about me risking my father’s wrath for your sake. Let’s talk about having to watch you and Annabeth be ridiculously happy together. Let’s talk about how this is just another way I’m a freak. Sure, yes, let’s talk about this.”
Percy stared at him, stunned, for a long while. Nico kept looking at him, waiting for some sort of reaction, but Percy had a hard time wrapping his head around it all. However, there was one thing that stood out.
“You’re not a freak,” he said. Nico huffed in joyless laughter, and Percy angrily grabbed his shoulder. “I mean it! So, you can be a bit creepy sometimes, but that doesn’t make you a freak! And neither does liking boys!”
Percy took a deep breath. “Look, I’m sorry I can’t return you feelings. I’m with Annabeth. But that’s not your fault, and you shouldn’t put yourself down.”
Nico didn’t say anything. He was looking down at the baby like she held all the answers to the universe. Percy thought he could see tears in Nico’s eyes, but his dark locks were doing a pretty good job of concealing it.
“Nico...” Percy begun uncertainly as the silence dragged on.
“Maria is a pretty name.” Nico interrupted, his voice cracking a bit. “You think it would fit?”
“It was your mother’s name, wasn’t it?” Percy said gently. “Yes, I think it would be perfect.”
Percy returned to his own cabin to sleep soon afterwards. The baby - Maria - stayed with Nico. Percy hadn’t been sure about leaving him to do the feeding and the changing diapers, but Nico just scoffed at him.
“I can handle it. I babysit dead people all the time,” he said. “Besides, like you said, it’s not like you have more experience than I do.”
Percy was forced to admit he had a point, but he still made Nico promised to come get him if something happened.
Nico was sitting at the Hades table when Percy walked to breakfast the following morning. He was ignoring his own plate in favor of feeding Maria baby formula, and the small number of campers that were left tried to be subtle about staring at him. Percy could understand that. Seeing the son of Hades taking care of a baby was pretty strange.
Ignoring the camp rules, Percy took his plate and sat down opposite them. Nico looked up in surprise. The circles under his eyes seemed darker than usual.
“You’re not supposed to sit here,” Nico said.
Percy laughed. “What? You make an exception for her but not for me? I’m hurt, truly.”
“Funny,” Nico said drily, apparently deeming Maria finished and setting the bottle down on the table.
“Well, let’s see them try to stop me,” Percy grinned. “You look tired.”
“Maria started screaming every time I put her down. For hours,” Nico said. “I've hardly slept at all.”
“You could have woken me up,” Percy said. “You promised you would.”
“I doubt it would have made a difference,” Nico said, looking unenthusiastically down at his own plate, containing nothing but a few fruits. Percy really hoped that wasn’t all he was eating today. He had skipped dinner last night, too.
“Jason called,” Nico said out of the blue. “I told him what we suspected. He agreed he should take a look.”
“You don’t really look in any condition to shadow travel.”
“He’s heading over here,” Nico said. “Said he had some camp stuff to discuss with Chiron anyway, though I think...”
Maria started crying, and Nico sighed deeply. “Not again.”
“Give her here,” Percy said. “I’ll handle it. Eat your breakfast.”
It took about half an hour for Maria to stop crying. By that time Nico had finished breakfast and joined them in the Poseidon cabin. There was nothing wrong with the baby that Percy could see, she had just eaten, her diapers were clean and she didn’t seem to cold or too hot. He was just about to start ripping his hair out in frustration when she stopped for no apparent reason.
“Finally,” Percy sighed. “You’re telling me she was like that all night?”
“Pretty much,” Nico said. “We should probably take her to a doctor if it continues.”
“And we should talk to somebody who’s had babies before and knows about this stuff,” Percy said thoughtfully. “I could call my mum.”
“Have you heard back from Frank about the foster parents yet?” Nico asked, his voice strangely neutral. Percy shook his head.
“Not yet,” he said. “I guess it could take a little time.”
“The sooner the better,” Nico murmured, and now Percy was completely sure he was covering. Nico was probably starting to feel like he didn’t want to give the baby up, despite the fact that there was no way he could take care of her by himself. Percy could relate. Looking down at the now blissfully silent little girl in his arms he was starting to feel the same.
Percy still had a duty to help training the other demigods at camp, so he left Maria with Nico as he headed off to the arena. He was a bit distracted by the whole baby-thing, but thankfully so where the others, and he had to tell them the whole story before they could get any training done at all. Some seemed a bit disappointed that Maria wasn’t in fact Nico’s kid.
“He seems to have such a good hand with her,” a girl from the Apollo cabin said dreamily, and one of the Hermes girls agreed, sighing deeply while saying what a great father he would make. Percy wondered if Nico knew he had a growing fan club among the campers. He doubted it, and it wasn’t like any of the girls had a chance anyway.
Nico is gay, Percy pondered as he walked to the showers. And he has a crush on me. He had been thinking about it a lot last night, and still found the whole thing surprising. It did explain a lot of Nico’s strange behavior over the years, but Percy never would have guessed. He doubted anyone else knew either, except apparently Jason. For some reason Percy found that irritating.
After showering Percy knocked on the door to the Hades cabin, and was surprised when the person opening the door wasn’t Nico, but Jason. He smiled brightly at Percy.
“Long time no see, man. Come in,” he said, gesturing for Percy to do so before walking back into the cabin and sitting down on beside Nico on the bed, like he belonged there. Nico was feeding Maria again and didn’t seem to mind.
“Hey, when did you arrive?” Percy asked, sitting down in front of them on the same chair as last night.
“About an hour ago. I went to see Chiron first,” Jason said. “We’re thinking about sending some Romans here for a couple of weeks. Increase cooperation and all that.”
“Sounds good,” Percy said. “So, is she your niece?”
“I can’t tell. Not by just looking at her anyway,” Jason said. “Nico hasn’t allowed me to hold her yet. He’s a very protective mother.”
“Hilarious, Grace,” Nico said drily. “I told you, after I feed her.”
“So, like I was just about to say before Percy arrived,” Jason said. “Frank told me to tell you that they’re looking for foster parents, but there are already many orphans after the war and there’s still a prejudice against Greeks, so it might take a few weeks.”
“A few weeks?” Nico repeated, sounding horrified. “We are in no way capable of taking care of this baby for a few days, let alone weeks. There’s got to be someone.”
“Not in New Rome,” Jason said. “And you seem to be doing fine.”
“Yeah, I think we can handle it,” Percy said confidently. Nico glared at him.
“This isn’t a battle that needs to be won or a prophecy to fulfill,” he said. “This is taking care of a human being, who will die or get hurt if you screw up.”
“I know, but we’ve been doing okay so far, right?” Percy said. “And some of the people I knew in school have kids already, so where’s the difference?”
“The difference is that Maria is not our kid,” Nico said angrily, then sort of made the point mute by lifting Maria up and burping her. Percy and Jason shared an amused look.
“Well, for a couple of weeks she is,” Percy shrugged. “We’ll be fine.”
“So, can I hold her?” Jason asked, and Nico reluctantly handed the baby over to him.
“Watch the head,” he warned as Jason carefully lifted Maria up in his arms. The baby looked up at him, wide eyed, and Percy mentally prepared himself for her cries.
She didn’t start crying, but she lifted her tiny little arms up like she was trying to touch his face. Jason smiled happily down at her.
“Well?” Percy asked.
“I have no idea,” Jason said, still looking at the baby. “But she’s the cutest thing, isn’t she? Can I keep her?”
“You’re no more qualified than either of us,” Percy said, but Jason had directed the question to Nico, who just smiled.
“Percy’s right. There’s no way I’m leaving her in your care,” he said. “But you’re welcome to help out.”
“I might just do that,” Jason said, beaming happily at Nico. “And I’ll try to ask my father tonight, but I sincerely doubt he’ll answer. Especially if you’re right.”
“The amount of monsters chasing Maria’s mother surely hints at it,” Nico said gravely. ”Also the fact that she could keep them at bay as well as she did. I’m pretty sure it was giving birth that finally killed her, not the monster’s.”
“I told you, that wasn’t your fault,” Percy said sternly when Nico looked like he was blaming himself again. Jason nodded.
“Maria is alive because of you,” he said gently. “Don’t forget that.”
“So she really is yours, in a sense,” Percy concluded. Nico glared at him, but didn’t comment.
They spent the rest of the evening talking about nothing in particular. Maria started crying once, and Jason seemed a bit panicked, but she calmed down quickly enough after Nico took her in his lap and started humming soothingly.
Jason’s presence seemed to have a similar effect on Nico himself, who was calmer and more comfortable than he usually was when it was just him and Percy. That made sense, Percy supposed. If Nico really had a crush on him having a third person around would help, but there still seemed to be more to it than that. Percy had rarely seen Nico and Jason interact when the whole group wasn’t present, but they seemed friendlier than Nico and Percy had ever been. At times he almost thought they’d forgotten he was there as well.
“It’s getting late,” Jason finally said, getting up from the bed. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Right, I should go as well,” Percy said. “I’ll take Maria for the night. You need sleep.”
“I can handle her,” Nico insisted, apparently unwilling to hand the baby over. Maybe Jason had a point. He really was turning into an overprotective mother.
“You said you didn’t sleep last night,” Percy said sternly. “And you were exhausted even before that. I’ll take her.” Nico still looked a bit hesitant.
“Percy’s right, Nico,” Jason said gently. “You seem really tired.”
“Fine,” Nico said, carefully handing the baby over. “But if anything happens...”
“I’ll come get you, I promise,” Percy said. “Now go to sleep.”
Percy and Jason both exited the Hades cabin and started walking towards their own cabins. Maria was already asleep in Percy’s arms.
“He seems happier,” Jason said quietly, as they walked. Percy looked at him.
“How do you figure?”
Jason shrugged. “He’s more relaxed. I think I actually saw a genuine smile in there.”
“Well, babies have that effect on people,” Percy said. “It’s hard not to smile at them.”
“Or it might be because he finally told you about his feelings,” Jason said seriously, smirking smugly at Percy’s surprise. “Yeah, he talked to me about it this morning.”
“When did you two become best buddies?” Percy asked, and Jason rolled his eyes.
“After me spending months after Gaea’s defeat trying befriend him,” he said. “Really wasn’t easy, but worth it in the end.”
“And you knew all along he had feelings for me,” Percy said accusingly.
“I tried to encourage him to tell you,” Jason said. “I’m glad he finally did, and that you didn’t freak out.”
“I was really surprised,” Percy admitted. “And I had to turn him down, which sucked. But at least he doesn’t seem to hate me for that.”
“Be careful, though,” Jason said. “You’ve practically adopted a baby together. Try not to hurt him.”
“I won’t,” Percy said determinedly. “But eventually having to give Maria away might.”
“I know.” Jason nodded. They had already reached their cabins a while ago, so they said goodnight and went their separate ways.
When morning finally came Percy was almost regretting having volunteered to look after Maria for the night. Things had been fine until about two am, when the baby’s cries had woken him up. She had screamed for no reason he could determine for about fifteen minutes, and even when she finally stopped he couldn’t put her down. Every time he tried she started screaming again. Percy was exhausted when he made his way to breakfast.
Nico and Jason were sitting together at the Zeus table when Percy arrived. He sank down beside Nico, handling Maria over to him. “I’m never having kids,” he declared.
Nico laughed as he placed her in his lap. “That’s not what you said two nights ago.”
“And I’ll probably change my mind again once I’ve had a decent meal and a good night's sleep,” Percy said. “Which tonight wasn’t. Is it normal for a baby to carry on like that?”
“No idea. Maybe you really should call your mother for advice,” Nico said. “Or we could visit her, if you want.”
“Yes, we’ll just show up on my mother’s doorstep with a baby. That’ll go great,” Percy said, and Jason laughed while Nico rolled his eyes. Maria seemed to be sucking one of his fingers, but Nico didn’t stop her.
“Still, you should probably talk to her,” Jason said. “Speaking of which, dead silence from my father. I tried asking Hera as well, just because, but nothing there, either.”
“That’s cold,” Percy said. “After all we’ve done for them.”
“It doesn’t really matter,” Nico said. “We don’t even know if Maria’s going to have any powers. Her mother hadn’t discovered anything as particular as flying or breathing underwater, either. She may just grow up to be a normal girl.”
“I doubt it,” Jason said. “Most children of demigods have at least some power. And look at Frank, still shape-shifting after gods know how many generations.”
“That’s true,” Percy nodded. “Better safe than sorry, right?”
“Never thought I’d hear you saying that,” Nico mumbled, and Jason snickered. He got up.
“Well, I’m off. I’ll be back in a couple of days,” Jason said. “Call if you need anything, or just come get me. I’d be happy to babysit.”
“Say hi to Frank and Hazel,” Percy said. “And Reyna.”
“I will. Hazel will probably drop by at some point,” Jason said. “After I tell her how great her brother are with babies.”
“Get lost, Grace,” Nico said without malice. He was blushing slightly. Jason laughed as he walked off summon Tempest and fly back to Camp Jupiter.
“So Jason tells me you two are good friends,” Percy said when he was gone. Nico shrugged. He didn’t deny it. “I think he’s worried about you.”
“Jason always worry about everyone. It’s part of who he is,” Nico said dismissively.
“You call him by his last name to his face but use his first with everyone else?” Percy asked, laughing.
“It’s a habit. I don’t think he minds,” Nico said, sniffing the air. “I think I need to change Maria’s diapers, you go get something to eat. And call your mother.”
“Right,” Percy said, getting up to fetch some food. Immediately after eating he returned to his cabin to call his mother.
“Hi, mum,” he said after his mother stopped fussing about how glad she was he’d called. “I need to ask you a few things about babies.”
His mother stared at him in silence for a long while. “Is Annabeth pregnant?” she finally asked, and Percy laughed.
“I really hope not. She’s still in college, I haven’t seen her in a while,” Percy said. “No, Nico and I are taking care of a baby for a few weeks or so and we could use some pointers.”
“Nico? The boy who made you ask for my consent to bath in the river Styx?” she asked, and Percy cringed.
“Yes, and that plan worked, remember?” Percy said. “Anyway, can we come over and talk? We really need your help.”
“Sure,” she agreed, smiling. “I’ll be happy to see you.”
After finishing the call Percy walked over to the Hades cabin and knocked. Nobody answered, and when he looked inside the cabin was empty. Percy frowned. Surely Nico hadn’t run off somewhere without telling him.
“Have you seen Nico?” he asked some Hephaestus kids walking by.
“I think I saw him heading towards the beach,” one of them said.
"He was carrying the baby," the other one, a girl, inflicted. "He looked so dreamy."
"Shut up, Anna," the boy said, rolling his eyes like he'd heard this a thousand times.
Percy thanked them, trying hard not to laugh. He hurried down to the beach and found Nico sitting in the sand with Maria in his lap. He was singing softly to her, and Percy wasn’t sure if he should disturb them.
“What did your mother say?” Nico asked, apparently aware he was there. Of course he was. Percy smiled slightly as he walked over and sat down beside him. Just once it would be nice to take Nico by surprise.
“We can go see her later, if you’re up for it,” Percy said. “I think she was disappointed it wasn’t actually my kid I was asking about.”
“She will be devastated when she hears your new promise never to have any,” Nico said drily. Percy laughed.
“Did I say that? I take it back.” he said, reaching out to stroke Maria’s head gently. “Babies are awesome.”
“That was fast,” Nico smiled. “I thought it would take until tomorrow at least.”
“I recover quickly,” Percy shrugged. “What about you? One sleepless night didn’t seem to put you off babies, either.”
“I don’t sleep much anyway,” Nico frowned. “And I already told you I’m not having any kids.”
“You can always adopt, you know,” Percy said.
“I’m still not doing it by myself,” Nico said. “But after this I’ll probably get stuck babysitting everybody else’s offsprings, so there’s that.”
“You’re not going to be alone forever, you know,” Percy said gently. “You’ll find someone.”
Nico gave him a look like he very much doubted that, but he didn’t comment. Instead he looked out at the water. Percy didn’t think Nico found the presence of the sea as soothing as he did, but it still seemed to calm him a bit.
“I’m not sure you’ll care, but I heard some of the girls talk about you,” Percy said. “I think they want to have your babies. You might not need to adopt, after all.”
Nico actually laughed at that. “Great, please tell me none of them are really planning to ask me. That would be awkward.”
“I guess we’ll wait and see.” Percy said. “My point is that you’re not nearly as unattractive as you seem to think you are.”
Nico was silent for a moment before sighing. “Thanks, I guess.”
He didn’t seem completely convinced. Nico really had zero self confidence when it came to things like this, and Percy wondered if that was at least partly his fault, for not being there for him and not noticing. How could he, though? Nico had an incredible poker face when he wanted to, and Percy hadn’t exactly ever thought another guy could fall for him. Maybe it would have changed things if he had noticed earlier, but probably not.
Still, he had meant what he said. Nico really wasn’t unattractive. Quite the opposite in fact, when he wasn’t making an effort to be scary. Seeing him sitting there, smiling down at the baby in his lap as she sucked his fingers, it was really easy to see why that Hephaestus girl said he was dreamy. If Percy hadn’t been with Annabeth and Nico told him he liked him Percy might have actually given it a shot.
“You’re staring at me,” Nico said uncomfortably. “Stop it.”
Percy blinked. “Sorry, I was just thinking about stuff.”
“Stuff?” Nico asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Baby stuff,” Percy lied, because there was no way he was telling Nico the truth. “Come on, we should be getting going. My mother’s expecting us soon.”
“Right,” Nico said, adjusting his hold on Maria as he got up. “We should probably visit a store for supplies while we’re there. We’re running out of diapers, and we could use some new clothes for her as well.”
“Sounds goods.” Percy said. “Let’s go.”
Nico reached out for him, and Percy took a firm hold of his hand. The world melted away into shadows, and then they were standing by the front door to his mother’s apartment building. Maria started crying a few seconds afterwards.
“That’s the first time she’s reacted this way to shadow travel,” Nico said, slightly worried. He let go of Percy’s hand to gently stroke Maria’s face, trying to sooth her. Percy looked around, frowning.
“It’s probably not the traveling, but the sudden noises from the streets,” Percy said. “Camp Half-Blood is pretty peaceful in comparison. Let’s get inside.”
Maria calmed down a lot as soon as they were inside the lobby. She still didn’t seem entirely happy, though. Percy hoped she’d be calm when meeting his mother. He didn’t want her to think he was a bad parent. Or temporary caretaker, whatever.
They took the elevator up and knocked on his mother’s door.
“Percy!” his mother said when she opened the door, and walked over to hug him. “You look so tired.”
“Yeah, I didn’t really sleep,” Percy said, hugging his mum back briefly before untangling herself. “Mom, this is Nico and Maria.” His mother’s eyes widened as she saw them. Nico seemed uncomfortable under her scrutiny.
“Nice to see you again,” he said quietly, and she smiled.
“You’ve really grown since the last time we met.” Sally said, gesturing for them to come in. “I baked muffins if you want some.”
“Sounds great,” Percy said enthusiastically, walking inside. Nico followed at a slower, more uncertain pace.
“Her name’s Maria, right?” Sally said. “Can I see her?”
Nico looked uncertainly at Percy first, before reluctantly handing the child over. Thankfully Maria didn’t seem bothered by it. Sally beamed at her.
“She’s so cute,” Sally said. “I remember when Percy was this small. Seems like only yesterday, really.”
“Mom, I’m twenty years old,” Percy complained. Nico looked like he was trying not to laugh.
“How old is she?” Sally asked, looking at Nico. “She can’t be more than a few weeks, at most.”
“About three days,” Nico said, and Sally turned to look at him, wide eyed.
“Are you sure?” she asked, like she couldn’t quite believe that they were taking care of a baby that young. And had manage not to botch it up so far.
“I saw the last part of the birth, so yes, I’m sure,” Nico said thickly. “The mother died, which is why we’re taking care of her now.”
“Yes, Percy told me, but I didn’t realize just how young she was,” Sally said, sounding bewildered. “Are there really nobody else? I don’t mean to offend you, but having two inexperienced boys taking care of a newborn child...”
“I’m still twenty, mum. Legally an adult,” Percy said. “And there wasn’t anybody else at camp, apart from Chiron, but she hates him for some reason.”
“Frank and Reyna are trying to find her a foster family in New Rome,” Nico inflicted. “Until then, she’s ours.”
“And we’re managing fine,” Percy said. “We just wanted to ask some stuff.”
Sally smiled. “Of course. Let’s sit down in the kitchen.”
There was a box on the kitchen table, and Sally laughed, slightly embarrassed. “I kept some of your old baby stuff all these years.” she said. “You should look through it and see if there’s anything you can use.”
Percy blushed, and Nico was obviously trying really hard not to laugh at him. When the first thing he lifted out of the box was a sea green pajama that looked slightly larger than Maria, Nico couldn’t hold his laughter anymore. Percy smiled at him, surprised. He wasn’t sure he’d heard Nico genuinely laugh since Bianca died. It was a pleasant sound, and Percy forgot that he should be embarrassed.
Most of the clothes were too big for Maria, but they took some anyway, as well as some toys she wouldn’t choke on.
“Did I scream a lot when I was a baby?” Percy asked as they sat down to eat some blue muffins. His mother laughed.
“Oh yes, for the first three weeks you woke up every night and started yelling your lungs out,” she said fondly. “And for no apparent reason, I might add. Is Maria doing something similar?”
“Yeah, we just wanted to know if it was normal,” Percy said. “And she doesn’t let us put her down, either.”
“Maybe she feels lonely,” his mother said. “Every baby is different, but it sounds like she’s a lot like you, wanting attention all the time.”
“Hey,” Percy said, and Nico snickered. Sally rolled her eyes.
“Just be careful about overstimulating her,” she said. “You can’t spoil her, exactly, but too much attention might make her too tired to fall asleep for a while, and then she’ll cry.”
They sat talking for a while, with his mother not so much giving advice as she was telling stories from when Percy was a baby. He was blushing more often than not, and Nico kept looking amused. When Maria’s diapers needed changing Nico volunteered, and Sally handed the baby over, looking surprised.
“That’s one part of having a baby I really don’t miss,” she said. “I would have thought you boys would hate it.”
Nico shrugged as he lifted her up. “I deal with rotten corpses, blood and innards on a daily basis. Baby poo really doesn’t bother me.” he said, disappearing into the bathroom. Sally frowned at Percy.
“Not the best environment to raise a baby in, “ she said. Percy laughed nervously.
“We’re not going to raise her. We’re just taking care of her for a while,” he said.
“You both seem really attached to her already, though,” she said. “And even if you give her away like you plan to there’s still the possibility of having children of your own one day.”
“Yeah, but that will be later. We’ll be living peacefully in New Rome by then,” Percy said.
“You and Annabeth, or you and Nico?” his mother asked, and Percy choked on his tea.
“I meant Annabeth,” he said. She raised an eyebrow at him, then sighed.
“As long as I get to be a grandmother, I don’t care,” she said. “Have another muffin.”
They stayed a few hours longer at Percy’s mother’s place, then briefly visited a convenience store for diapers before heading back to camp. Chiron was standing by the fireplace as they walked towards the dining area, and he frowned at them.
“Do either of you remember what camp rules say about leaving without permission?” he asked. Nico rolled his eyes.
“‘Don’t do it’,” he said. “But I’ve always ignored that.”
“Indeed,” Chiron said irritably, glaring at Percy.
“Sorry, we just visited my mother for baby tips,” he said. Chiron sighed deeply and left them alone.
“So, wanna do something?” Percy asked Nico, who shook his head.
“I’ll think I’ll just IM Hazel and then go to sleep. To try and get an hour or so before Maria wakes me up,” he said. “And you look just about ready to crash anyway.”
“You’re probably right,” Percy said. “Goodnight, then.”
He had only just entered the cabin when Annabeth’s face appeared in the mist above the fountain. Percy smiled as he saw her.
“Hey,” he said. “I was just about to call.”
She was quiet, looking uncomfortable and a little scared. Percy wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I think we need to talk,” she said, and Percy’s insides went cold. He had never personally heard that line before, but he’d seen enough movies to know it always meant trouble.
“What is it?” he asked quietly, and she was looking up at him. There was an apology in her eyes, even before she’d said anything, and that definitely wasn’t good.
“There’s no easy way to say this,” she begun. “I think we should break up.”
The world ceased to make sense. Percy was pretty sure Annabeth kept talking, explaining how things hadn’t really been the same between them since they got out of Tartarus, how some of the things he could do frightened her, how they really had nothing in common now that the war was over, and that she’d met someone at college who shared all her interests, but the words didn’t matter. Percy wasn’t completely listening anymore.
“Percy?” Annabeth asked when he didn’t say anything. She sounded on the edge of crying, and that wasn’t fair. He should be the one crying.
The fountain exploded, cutting off the connection and soaking him in water. The cool liquid was soothing, but it did little to calm him down. Percy wanted to smash the cabin to pieces, but instead he ran out towards the beach, where he threw himself into the water to be completely submerged. Maybe it was his father’s influence, but he calmed down, reaching an almost catatonic state as he let the water surround him. He wasn’t sure how long he stayed there, but the sun was rising when he finally got out. He felt calmer, but hollow.
He hadn’t bothered keeping his clothes dry, and he didn’t have the concentration needed to dry them himself, so he walked back to the Poseidon cabin to change. To his surprise Nico was sitting on his doorstep with Maria in his lap.
“Finally. I was just about to go tell someone you’ve gone missing,” he said, looking simultaneously relieved and irritated.
“What are you doing here?” Percy asked tiredly.
“Annabeth called me about an hour ago, asking me to check up on you,” he said, sounding worried. “She told me what happened.”
“Did she?” Percy laughed hollowly. “Well, you don’t have to watch us be happy anymore. Isn’t that great? Isn’t that what you wanted?”
He didn’t realized Nico had moved to hit him before he was on the ground. Maria started crying from the sudden movement, and Nico only spared Percy an angry glare before walking off towards the Hades cabin murmuring soothingly to Maria. Percy sat on the ground, holding his aching jaw.
I deserved that, he thought. He would have to apologize to Nico later. He should have run after him and done so immediately, but he didn’t trust himself not to say something equally stupid again right now. Instead he slowly got up and opened the door to his cabin. A small flood of water reaching up to his ankles ran towards him. Percy swore loudly. The broken fountain had created a swimming pool for mice in his cabin. Still swearing, he used his powers to repair the worst damage and direct the water out the door.
The fountain luckily wasn’t as badly damaged as it had seemed, but he still directed the water elsewhere, so it wouldn’t leak until he could get it fixed. Once that that was done he sank down on the no longer flooded but still quite wet floor. He was exhausted to a point where water couldn’t revitalize him. He was also fully aware his reaction to all this was pathetic.
Nico had been right to hit him.
Silently Percy lay down on the floor and sobbed.
He must have fallen asleep at some point, because it was suddenly dark outside again. Strangely enough, Percy felt better. He was still angry, still hurt, but he felt more like himself. Less like he wanted to smash the whole world to pieces.
And speaking about pieces, there were some he immediately had to pick up, if he could. His clothes had dried while he slept, so he didn’t bother changing before he ran to the Hades cabin and knocked on the door. He hoped Nico hadn’t left camp, though he really couldn’t blame him if he had.
Thankfully the door opened, and Nico stood before him. For once he wasn’t holding Maria, but Percy assumed she was inside, probably sleeping on Nico’s bed.
“What do you want?” Nico asked harshly.
“To apologize.” Percy said immediately. “I’m sorry. I should never have said what I said. I was angry and I didn’t mean it. I’m so, so sorry.”
Nico was silent for a while, and Percy had time to wonder that he would do if Nico slammed the door in his face. Finally Nico sighed, gesturing for Percy to come in.
“You look like shit,” he commented. Percy almost laughed at that. Like he’d guessed, Maria was sleeping on Nico’s bed, with the blanket folded around her so she couldn’t fall off if she started rolling. Nico sat down by her feet, while Percy remained standing.
“Have you talked to Annabeth again, yet?” Nico asked, and Percy tried not to wince at her name.
“I’m trying not to think about that at all. I can’t talk to her,” Percy said.
Nico nodded slowly. “Do you mind if I tell her you haven’t killed yourself or anything? She was really worried.”
For a moment Percy was tempted to tell him to let her worry, but then he lowered his head. “Go ahead. But later.”
He walked over to sit down on the floor, resting his back against Nico’s bed. When he looked up he could see the boy glancing down at him, looking concerned.
“I don’t want to talk about it, but I don’t want to be alone right now either,” he said. “Can I stay here?”
“Sure,” Nico said softly, sinking down on the floor beside him. “If you want to stay the night there’s four other beds that have never been used. Maria will probably wake you up, though.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Percy said, letting his head fall down on Nico’s shoulder. “Thank you for not turning me away. Even after the way I acted.”
“You had a reason,” Nico said, slightly tense. “I’m not holding it against you. But for the record, what you said? It’s not true. It might have been, once, but not for a long time now. I truly wanted you to be happy.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” Percy said, closing his eyes. Nico was shorter than him, so resting his head on his shoulder wasn’t entirely comfortable, but the element of human contact, and the fact that Nico didn’t push him away, more than made up for the dull ache in his neck. He was actually starting to drift off to sleep again when Nico finally pushed his head back and stood up.
“Go to bed,” he said. “I need to make a call.”
Percy stumbled into the nearest bed that wasn’t Nico’s s the boy disappeared out the door. He fell asleep immediately, but stirred awake barely minutes later by someone standing over his bed.
“Nico?” he asked sleepily. It was too dark to say for sure.
“You fell asleep without a blanket. You’re going to be cold,” Nico’s voice said. A moment later Percy was covered by a warm cloth.
“Thanks,” Percy murmured, and he head Nico chuckle slightly.
“Go back to sleep, Percy,” he said, and Percy closed his eyes again. Not that it made much difference, since he hadn’t been able to see anyway. Percy slowly drifted back to sleep.
A few hours later he was woken up by a scream. However, it wasn’t Maria, like he would have expected.
“Nico!” Percy exclaimed.”Are you alright?”
There was silence for a moment, then he heard Nico’s voice. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Just a bad dream.”
“Turn the lights on,” Percy demanded, already getting up.
“I really am fine, there’s no need to...” Nico tried, but Percy ignored him.
“Just turn on the lights.”
A moment later Nico did. Marie was occupying his bed, somehow still sleeping peacefully. Nico himself was sitting up in the bed directly parallel to the one Percy had borrowed. Percy walked over and sat down beside him.
“I get nightmares too, you know,” he said. “How bad was it?”
Nico looked down at his hands. “Tartarus. That’s why I don’t really like sleeping nowadays.”
“I understand,” Percy said, and he really did. Half his own nightmares were about Tartarus, and he hadn’t even had to go through it alone, like Nico had. “Can I help?”
“I’m already awake,” Nico said, looking up at him, frowning slightly. “So I’m fine.”
“You’re lying,” Percy said, placing a hand on Nico’s shoulder. Nico looked at the hand like he wasn’t sure what it was doing there. “Do you want me to stay with you?”
Nico made a sound that was probably meant to be a laugh. “That would be a terrible idea.”
Percy supposed he was right, under the circumstances. He sighed, getting back up and walking over to his bed again. “I don’t want to see you suffer alone,” he said as he lay down. “If you change your mind, just tell me.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Nico said, then turned off the lights. About half an hour later Maria woke both of them up again.
They were a sorry sight at the breakfast table the following morning, yawning more than chewing and with dark circles under their eyes. Maria was the only one who seemed spirited.
“So sleeping in the same cabin is probably not a good plan,” Percy said, yawning widely. “That way neither of us gets to rest.”
“Agreed,” Nico said. “So apart from the fatigue, how do you feel?”
“Better,” Percy said. “I think I’ll head to the arena after breakfast. I’m technically supposed to train them in sword fighting, after all.”
“Want to spar?” Nico asked. “I could use some training against living people.”
“Sure. Just swordplay, though. No powers.”
“No powers,” Nico agreed, and they got up from the table and started walking to the arena. A couple of Percy’s students were already there, and they looked surprised to see him. He really had been neglecting his duties lately. Nico walked up to one of the girls who were resting and asked her to look after Maria while they sparred. She blushed a deep red as she agreed, and Percy silently thought that Nico’s fan club must be bigger than he initially thought.
“Ready?” Percy asked as he summoned riptide. Nico’s black sword was already drawn.
“Anytime,” Nico said, like Percy was being slow. For a moment they watched each other, neither one wanting to make the first move. Then both attacked at the same time.
Percy had fought beside Nico plenty of times, but he couldn’t recall actually fighting Nico before. It became clear immediately that Nico was much more knowledgeable in Percy’s fighting style than vice versa, and he easily took the advantage. For a while all Percy managed to do was parry and dodge, but he was learning Nico’s patterns and soon managed to start attacking as well. Judging by the smirk on Nico’s face he had let him do it, and Percy didn’t like the thought of that.
Nico’s grin got wider when Percy tried a more aggressive response, and he was getting increasingly frustrated. It wasn’t until halfway through the match that Percy realized the boy wasn’t smiling because he was toying with him, but because he was having fun. Percy started grinning as well, and despite the lethal speed of their blades they were both laughing like maniacs when the fight finally ended. There wasn’t any gong or anything, all of the sudden they just stopped and decided they were done.
It wasn’t until then they realized that pretty much every demigod left at camp had come to watch them.
“That was totally awesome!” someone shouted excitedly, and a round of applause filled the arena like they had been performing some stage number. Percy grinned, but Nico looked irritated.
“She’s not going to like all that noise,” he said, sheathing his sword and walking over to the girl he left Maria with. The baby started crying before he reached her.
“I’m so sorry, I don’t know what I did wrong,” the poor girl said as Nico kneeled down beside her.
“Not your fault. She get’s like this sometimes,” he said, reaching out to lift the baby into his arms. “Thanks for watching her.”
The girl blushed, but Percy doubted Nico noticed. He was busy trying to calm Maria down, and it seemed to be succeeding pretty well.
“I need to get her out of here. See you later,” he told Percy before he walked off. A few of the girls and at least one boy watched him go with deep admiration in their eyes. Percy shook his head, smiling. Then he promptly ordered everyone to pair up for the session.
Percy didn’t bother knocking on the door to the Hades cabin this time. He just walked straight in to find Nico sitting on his bed with a book in his lap while Maria was sleeping by his feet, easily within reach.
“Sure, come in, make yourself at home. Since you're obviously polite enough to wait to be invited,” Nico drawled. Percy ignored him as he walked in to pick up Maria and sit down by Nico’s feet. Nico raised an eyebrow at him.
“Did you know three people asked me if you had a girlfriend today?” Percy said. “Three people. We’re never sparring in public again. You’re stealing all my fans.”
“It might be more the fact that Reyna and I, and Coach Hedge, brought that statue here and defended camp when Gaea attacked,” Nico pointed out. “All right in front of their eyes. You were off saving the world where they couldn’t see it.”
“True, but unfair,” Percy admitted.
“Besides,” Nico said hesitatingly, “Your fans probably still think you’re taken.”
Percy swallowed hard. “Irrelevant,” he said. “The point is that you’re turning pretty popular.”
“I’m so happy,” Nico said dryly, looking distinctly unimpressed.
“One of the people asking was a guy.”
“Look, If you’re trying to set me up with someone, then stop,” Nico said, frowning as he put his book down. “It’s not going to happen.”
“Why not?” Percy asked. “I mean, I’m not actually trying to set you up, but why not go out with someone?”
“Because I’m not going to settle for something I don’t actually want,” Nico said determinedly. “It wouldn’t be fair to anyone.”
Percy thought about it for a moment. “I guess that make sense. He didn’t seem your type anyway.”
“Why are you here, Percy?” Nico asked, ignoring the comment.
“I was wondering if I could stay here tonight, as well.” Percy said.
Nico frowned. “I thought we agreed it was stupid for both of us to wake up in the middle of the night to Maria’s screaming.”
“True, but I still don’t want to be alone,” Percy said. “And they’d ask so many questions in the Hermes cabin.”
“Fine,” Nico said. “But don’t start babbling about not wanting kids in the morning.”
Percy smiled down at the baby in his arms. “Too late. I’ve already got one.”
Nico rolled his eyes and returned to his book.
It became a routine. Percy doubted his father would approve, and Chiron certainly wouldn’t, but he slept in the Hades cabin after that. Every night he was woken up, by Maria or on some occasions Nico, but he found he didn’t really mind so much. A short nap during the day sorted out the fatigue problem.
Jason seemed surprised by the arrangement when he came by a few days later. Somehow he ended up spending two days in the Hades cabin as well.
“Won’t your father get offended?” Jason asked a bit uncertainly the first night, but Nico just shrugged.
“Yours might,” he said. “But Hades is the god of death, and everybody ends up at his place sooner or later anyway.”
“That’s a cheerful way of looking at it,” Percy laughed, and it was the end of that discussion.
Before he left for Camp Jupiter again, Jason took Percy aside.
“What are you doing?” Jason asked, frowning.
Percy looked at him in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“You and Nico, suddenly living together. And don’t tell me it’s for convenience, because there’s nothing convenient about waking up at two am every night,” Jason said.
“It’s not that. I just think it’s better not to be alone,” Percy said, but Jason seemed unconvinced.
“Better for you or for him?” he asked. “Normally that would be a good thing, but after what happened with Annabeth...”
“I really don’t want to talk about that.”
“My point is,” Jason said, staring Percy down. “If you’re just using Nico to rebound I will personally escort you back to the Underworld. Are we clear?”
“I wouldn’t do that to him,” Percy said defensively. “Nico is my friend, I wouldn’t use him like that.”
“Then what are you doing?” Jason repeated, and Percy didn’t have a good answer for him.
Later that evening, as he was watching Nico feed Maria on the bed, he thought hard about what Jason had said. What am I doing? Percy wondered. He didn’t think it was rebound, but it was true he and Nico had gotten closer since Annabeth broke up with him. Percy admitted that for the first day afterwards he had been in desperate need of company, and had sought Nico out for that very reason. Who knows, maybe he wouldn’t have complained if Nico had made a move, but nothing had happened. Percy wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted something to happen.
Nico raised an eyebrow at him from the bed. “You’re staring. It’s starting to become a bad habit.”
“Sorry,” Percy said, shaking his head to clear it. What was he thinking, anyway? He was still in love with Annabeth, even if he was mad at her for dumping him. Nico was just his friend. His friend who had apparently been love with him for years. Yeah, that wasn’t helping.
“Something wrong?” Nico asked, lifting Maria up in his arms to burp her. The sight made Percy smile.
“No, I was just thinking,” Percy said, walking over to them. “Can I hold her?”
“You really have to ask?” Nico said, rolling his eyes as he handed the baby over. She started drooling in Percy’s shirt, but he didn’t really mind. It was better than vomit, in any case. That hadn’t been pleasant.
“Have you talked to Annabeth?” Percy asked after a while. Nico seemed surprised by the question, probably because Percy had been avoiding even mentioning her name for the last week.
“Yes, she wanted me to tell her how you were doing,” he said. “I spoke to her yesterday.”
“How is she?”
“Worried about you. I haven’t really asked,” Nico shrugged. “Sorry. I tend to get mad at her when we’re speaking.”
“Really? What for?” Percy asked.
“Well, for starters, she dumped you. And hurt you,” Nico said, looking at his hands. “She may be the daughter of Athena, but she’s an idiot. If it was...”
He cut himself off suddenly, like he realized what he was going to said something he didn't think he should. He was blushing slightly, and Percy could guess where he had been going with that.
“If it was what?” Percy asked anyway, honestly curious. “If it was you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Nico said, bringing his feet up and resting his head on his knees. “It was just a stupid thought.”
“Tell me anyway,” Percy said, and Nico glared at him.
“Fine. If it was me I’d never let go of you. Not by choice,” Nico said. “Happy?”
Hearing that actually did make Percy happy, but he was pretty sure Nico would punch him if he admitted it. Besides, he wasn’t sure if it was the statement itself or the fact that it was Nico who said it that made him happy. Jason was right. Until he figured that out he’d better be careful.
“Sorry, I just wanted to know,” Percy said instead.
“Find someone else to satisfy your ego,” Nico muttered. “I’m done with it.”
“It’s not like that,” Percy said, reaching out to touch his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Nico shook his hand off, but he didn’t leave, so he couldn’t have been all that angry. Or maybe he just didn’t want to leave Maria with Percy if he stormed off.
“You should talk to her,” Nico said after a while. It took Percy a moment to realize who he was talking about.
“Yeah, maybe I should,” Percy said thoughtfully. He didn’t want to, if he was being honest, but the way he had cut their conversation short last time bothered him. He hadn’t even given her time for a proper explanation. After all they’d been through, he owed her that much.
“I should,” he concluded, handing Maria back to Nico and getting up from the bed. “I’m going to. I’m ready.”
Nico looked worried as Percy exited the cabin, but he didn’t say or do anything to stop him.
He hadn’t spent much time in the Poseidon cabin during the last week or so, mostly coming in to change his clothes, but he went there to call Annabeth in private. It was pretty late, so he might wake her up, but he didn’t really care. Partly because he was still angry at her, and partly because he wasn’t sure he’d find the strength to make this call if he didn’t do it now.
The mist showed Annabeth sitting by a desk, bent over a really thick book with a picture of the Parthenon on the open page. She looked up in surprise as he called her name. She had a peculiar expression on her face, like she wasn’t sure whether to be happy or not. Percy made his best effort to smile at her, though he suspected it looked more like he was making a face.
“Sorry I cut things short last time. I needed some space,” Percy managed, though he had a hard time forming the words.
“It’s okay. I shouldn’t have dropped the bomb on you like that,” Annabeth said, looking uncomfortable. “How are you doing?”
“Better. I don’t know what Nico has been telling you, but I’m really doing better,” he said, and she nodded.
“That’s what he said. Apart from either yelling or being extremely passively aggressive,” Annabeth said. Percy could imagine that easily, and smiled slightly at the thought.
“He get like that sometimes,” Percy said. “How about you?”
“I’m… fine, really,” she said. “I know it’s not fair, but I feel better now that we’ve talked.”
“And this guy you’re seeing, how’s that going?” Percy asked, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. Annabeth frowned at him.
“We’re not seeing each other. Not yet, anyway,” she said. “And you know he wasn’t the real reason for me to break up with you, right? We haven’t been the same since the battle.”
Percy sighed. “I know. I thought we’d be able to fix it, but I guess it didn’t work.” he said. “I still love you, you know.”
“I know,” she said, smiling sadly. “I still love you, too, even if it’s not the same. But I would like us to be friends.”
“Maybe we can. In time,” Percy agreed. He wouldn’t have thought it a week ago, but yeah, maybe they did have a shot at being friends. Talking to her wasn’t as bad as he’d have thought.
“Take care of yourself, you hear me?” Annabeth said. “And tell Nico thanks for checking up on you for me.”
Percy laughed a little. “I’m pretty sure he didn’t do it for you,” he said. “Still, I’ll tell him. Goodnight.”
The image dissolved, and Percy was standing alone, surrounded by the silence in the Poseidon cabin. As much as he had come to see this cabin as his home, he was glad he had someplace else to go. He wouldn’t have wanted to stay in the silence after that talk.
Nico was already lying in bed, reading a book, when Percy entered the Hades cabin. Maria was asleep on Nico’s old bed.
“Are you okay?” Nico asked, sitting up and putting the book aside. Percy smiled slightly as he walked over and sat down beside him.
“Yeah, surprisingly enough. I feel fine,” Percy said. “She told me to thank you for checking up on me.”
“Right. Are you sure you're okay?” Nico asked again, frowning at him. “If you’re not you don’t have to act like you are.”
“I feel like I should say something clever about pots and kettles and the color black,” Percy laughed. “But I really am fine. I feel lighter. You were right about talking to her.”
“So, are you two...”
“Irrevocably broken up, yes,” Percy said. “After talking to her just now, I feel like I should have seen it coming. But as you know, I’m not exactly the most observant person in the world.”
“Understatement,” Nico said, rolling his eyes. “So are you moving back to your own cabin now?”
“Not unless you kick me out, “ Percy said.
Nico seemed a bit surprised, but he gave Percy a brief smile. “Like I would.”
Two days later Frank called, saying they had found a family willing to take care of Maria. The message came while Percy was training, and Nico told him about it when he got back to the cabin.
“I talked to them over the IM, and they seemed like a nice couple. Children of Venus and Apollo respectively, about forty years old. Two other kids who’re in their teens now,” Nico said. “They live in New Rome, but have pretty good contact with the outside world.”
“That sounds good,” Percy said hesitatingly.
“They asked if we could come by tomorrow. I agreed,” Nico said.
“Tomorrow already?” Percy asked, shocked. Nico frowned.
“Technically this should have happened at least a week ago. They’ll take better care of her than we could,” Nico said.
“I think we’ve been doing okay.” Percy said defensively.
“So far, yes. But neither of us have jobs to support her or even really a place to live,” Nico said sternly. “We knew from the beginning this was temporary. It’s for the best.”
“I know,” Percy sighed. “I just kind of wished it weren’t.”
Percy spent the rest of the evening pretty much just holding Maria and walking around, thinking about how much he was going to miss her. Nico on the other hand barely touched her at all. Instead he pretty much sat on his bed the whole time, with a book in his lap and a frown on his face. It wasn’t until they said goodnight and turned the lights off that Percy realized he hadn’t turned the page a single time.
The couple was nice, just like Nico had said. Percy had been somewhat determined to find flaws with them, but there wasn’t anything big enough to deserve remark. They were pretty old, he thought, but that was hardly dire. Nico didn’t say much during the whole encounter, though he visible hesitated when time came for them to hand Maria over.
“Can we visit?” he asked quietly, looking like he was directing the question to the baby rather than the foster parents. The wife smiled gently at him.
“Of course. Anytime you want,” she said. Nico briefly kissed Maria’s forehead and handed her over. They left almost immediately after that.
“Do you want me to take you back to Camp Half-Blood?” Nico asked as they walked down the streets of New Rome. Percy looked at him.
“Aren’t you coming with me?” Percy asked.
“I don’t really have any reason to be there now,” Nico said. Percy frowned. He supposed he should have expected this, really.
“Yes, you do,” he said. “It’s home.”
“Not to me.”
“Fine. Then come keep me company,” Percy said. “Please. For a few days at least.”
“You really can’t handle being alone, can you?” Nico asked. It sounded like he was trying to make Percy angry, but he wasn’t going to bite.
“Not right now I can’t,” Percy said. “Come on, please?”
Nico glared at him. “Just for a few days. Then I’m gone.”
They were met by some disappointed faces when they returned to camp without the baby. Nico completely ignored them as he stalked off towards his cabin, and Percy was left to answer their questions. When he finally managed to get away he followed Nico. Outside the Hades cabin he hesitated for a moment, and then proceeded to knock. Without Maria he didn’t really feel like he belonged there.
Nico didn’t comment on his behavior as he opened the door to let him in. Percy looked around, and there was no trace left in the cabin that there had ever been a baby living there. It seemed darker than it had been, despite the fact that the lights were on. The cabin was also strangely bigger and emptier than he remembered.
“You know, you don’t have to stay here if you don’t want to,” Percy told Nico, who glared at him.
“I already promised you I would. You suddenly want me to leave?”
“No, of course not,” Percy said, taking a few steps closer. “But you don’t have to stay here. You could join me in the Poseidon cabin for a few days.”
Nico looked up at him, frowning uncertainly. “I don’t think...” he begun, then apparently changed his mind. He sighed. “Yes. Thank you.”
He quickly packed up a change of clothes and a book, and followed Percy out of the cabin. There was something very final in the way he slammed the door shut behind him.
“Your fountain is broken,” Nico commented as they entered the Poseidon cabin, and Percy snorted.
“Yeah, I accidentally exploded it when Annabeth broke up with me. I haven’t gotten around to fixing it,” he said. “At least it’s not leaking anymore.”
“Oh,” Nico said, looking around uncertainly. “Are you okay with staying here, though? I mean, that was the reason you stayed with me in the first place, right?”
“I’m good,” Percy said, smiling when Nico gave him a disbelieving look. “Honestly, I’m fine. It doesn’t bother me anymore.”
“Really? But you still love her, don’t you?” Nico asked, like he couldn’t possibly believe Percy had moved on already.
“I think I probably always will, in some ways,” Percy shrugged. “But she was right, it was for the best. I think we’ll both be happier as friends.”
“I don’t understand,” Nico admitted, looking at the broken fountain.
“I guess you wouldn’t,” Percy smiled, casually throwing an arm around his shoulder. “You’re an old-fashioned romantic, aren’t you?”
“Stop making fun of me,” Nico said angrily, shaking his hand off.
“I’m not. Trust me, I’m really not,” Percy said. “I think it’s admirable.”
Nico glared at him like he didn’t believe it, then promptly walked over to an empty bed and threw his book open. Percy sighed. He guessed that conversation was over then.
Percy woke up at two am. The cabin was silent, and for a moment Percy though something must be wrong if Maria hadn’t started screaming yet. He’d already sat up in bed when he remembered she wasn’t there. The realization made him feel empty.
“Percy? Is something wrong?” Nico’s voice asked quietly. The Poseidon cabin was brighter than the Hades cabin, but they were sleeping at the same side of the wall so Percy couldn’t see him. Suddenly he really needed to.
He got up and walked over to Nico’s bed. The boy was sitting with his chin on his knees, watching silently as Percy sat down beside him. He didn’t seem like he had just woken up. Percy wondered if he’d been sleeping at all.
“I miss her,” Percy told him. “I know we had to give her up, but I really miss her.”
Nico nodded. “Me too,” he said, barely audible. His voice cracked like he was going to cry, or had been crying.
“Scoot over,” Percy told him, and proceeded to join him under his blanket without waiting for Nico’s response. Nico stared dumbly at him, doubly so when Percy put an arm around him and pulled him closer.
“What are you doing?” he asked, sounding baffled and a little hurt.
“We pretty much just gave up our kid, you and I,” Percy said. “I can’t deal with that alone. I doubt you can, either.”
“I can handle it,” Nico said stubbornly, but he didn’t move.
“But you don’t have to. I’m here,” Percy said, reaching out to pull the boy into a full embrace. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Nico tensed up, and for a few seconds Percy thought he was going to push him away. Then Nico broke down completely. He sobbed loudly into Percy’s shoulder, tears streaming down his face as he grabbed a handful of Percy’s shirt and held on like it was his only lifeline. Percy had never seen Nico di Angelo like this, completely stripped of any walls, and it broke his heart. Percy pulled him closer, stroking his hair as he whispered “It’s going to be okay” about a hundred times in his ear. Percy doubted Nico cared much about the words anyway.
It took a long time for Nico to finally calm down and relax in Percy’s arms. His breathing slowly returned to normal, and Percy could tell he was struggling to regain control over himself.
“Sorry,” Nico murmured, letting go of Percy’s shirt and pulling back a little. Percy loosed his grip, but didn’t completely let go. ”I’m fine now, you can go back to sleep.”
“I’m planning to,” Percy smiled, slowly letting himself sink down on the bed. It was probably more surprise than anything else that caused Nico to follow him down.
“Percy...” Nico said uncertainly, lying with his head on Percy’s arm. Percy smiled as he lazily ran his fingers through Nico’s hair.
“I told you, I’m not going anywhere,” he murmured. “Sleep.”
Nico stared at him another moment, then slowly closed his eyes and relaxed. He didn’t protest when Percy pulled him closer and kissed his forehead before drifting off to sleep.
Percy felt good when he woke up. He still had his arms around Nico, who had turned around sometime during the night and was now facing away from him, still sound asleep. Percy smiled down at his peaceful face. Even after living with him for over a week it wasn’t a sight he’d seen often. Percy pulled Nico closer, careful not to wake him. His hair smelled of almonds, for some reason. It smelled good. Percy more or less buried his face in Nico’s darks locks, closing his eyes as he started to drift back to sleep again.
Then Nico moved slightly in his sleep, and Percy’s eyes went wide open. He was feeling too good about this. He lay perfectly still, trying not to panic. He was a guy, these things happened, especially in the mornings. It wasn’t that big of a deal.
Except that it is, Percy thought. The gods only knew how Nico would react if he noticed. Freak out, most likely. He’d have every right to do so. Percy still hadn’t figured out how he felt about the boy, exactly (even if his body clearly had ideas), and he really wasn’t ready to talk about it. Percy took a deep breath and closed his eyes. If he could concentrate on something really disgusting and forget that he was spooning the boy he had conflicting feelings about, it would go away.
Nico moved again, his hips grinding against Percy’s, and Percy involuntarily let out a moan. Shit! Percy cursed internally. Nico had thankfully not completely woken up by that, but he was starting to stir. As subtly as possible Percy tried to increase space between them to avoid another incident. Nico was conscious enough to hear him now.
He didn’t count on Nico’s first reaction being panic. In hindsight, he really should have seen it coming, but his mind had been busy with other things. Nico pushed him away and attempted to sit up, and because Percy was already lying close to the edge of the narrow bed he of course tumbled to the floor. His only saving grace was that the blanket went with him, making it fairly easy to cover up certain problems he may or may not have had at the time.
“Ow,” Percy said, sitting up on the floor. “What the hell, Nico?”
Nico looked like a hunted animal for a few seconds before his shoulders slumped. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I’m not used to waking up with people.”
“Yeah, and no wonder, if you throw them out of the bed in the mornings,” Percy laughed. “How are you feeling?”
“Well-rested,” Nico said, blushing as he looked away. “Listen, about last night...”
He trailed off, and Percy waited patiently for him to finish. Nico remained silent, growing redder with every moment. It was so cute Percy just wanted to get up and hug him again, and he really needed to stop thinking about things like that.
“It’s okay. We don’t have to talk about it,” Percy said, hating how thick his voice sounded. Nico didn’t seem to notice.
“Right. It’s just...thanks, I guess,” Nico said, talking to the wall. “It helped.”
“Anytime,” Percy said, getting up from the floor, keeping the sheet around him. “I’m going to take a shower.”
Once his back was safely turned towards Nico he threw the sheet away and walked off. He more or less ran to the showers after that, but hesitated when it came to actually turning on the water. Cold shower, or hot? It had been a while, so a hot shower might be a better solution, though Percy wasn’t sure where his thoughts would lead him. Sighing, he figured there was only one way to find out. It might actually help to make some sense of the whole Nico-situation. Percy turned on the hot water.
At first he didn’t think about anything or anyone in particular, just reveling in the sensation. Then his thoughts started to wander. Annabeth was the logical destination, seeing how he actually had experience of this kind with her, but it felt wrong to think of her like that. Not to mention it wasn’t arousing anymore. When had that happened? Nico on the other hand… Oh, gods, Nico! Percy’s thoughts kept returning to waking up next to him, holding him, breathing him in. The brief sensation of rubbing against him, accidental as it might have been… Percy had to stifle a moan. Imagine if Nico had noticed. Imagine if he had offered a hand. Imagine if he had offered more than that. Imagine…
Percy’s mind went blank as bit his tongue to prevent a scream. He collapsed, leaning against the shower wall and breathing heavily. He almost laughed at himself.
Well, I guess that settles it. Now how the fuck do I make him believe me?
Nico was nowhere to be seen when Percy came back to the Poseidon cabin, but his stuff were still there, so Percy wasn’t worried. He headed off to the arena, where the younger campers were already beating each other with practice swords. They were pretty good, but he still found something worth commenting on with each one of them. Unfortunately they also had questions for him.
“Are you and Nico di Angelo a couple?” the girl from the Hephaestus cabin asked, and suddenly all attention in the arena was focused on them. Percy swallowed.
“Why do you ask?”
“Because you’re always together,” the girl said.
“And you sleep in the same cabin,” another inflicted, which caused some of the other campers to giggle and others to gasp in surprise. Percy tried not to blush. He should have expected this. They hadn’t exactly been secretive about the arrangement, mostly because there hadn’t been anything to hide.
“But aren’t you with Annabeth?” one of the boys asked.
“Annabeth and I broke up weeks ago,” Percy said.
“Oh, because of Nico?” An Aphrodite girl asked. Percy wondered if she had come to the arena just to ask him about this.
“That had nothing to do with Nico,” Percy said firmly. “And my hypothetical lovelife is none of your business. Get back to training.”
“Hypothetical? Does that mean you’re not dating Nico?” someone still ventured, and Percy had had enough.
“Okay, that’s it!” Percy exclaimed. “We’re having a tournament. Last one standing does not need to do a hundred pushups before leaving this arena!”
That effectively shut them up, but it also made Percy late for dinner. Nico had probably already eaten, if he was still at camp, because Percy couldn’t find him. Eating alone at the Poseidon table felt even lonelier than it used to.
It was already pretty late in the evening when Nico finally showed up, or rather suddenly materialized in the Poseidon cabin, causing Percy to yelp in surprise. Nico laughed at him.
“You bastard. Where have you been all day?” Percy asked.
Nico shrugged. “Camp Jupiter. Hazel called and asked me over, since we didn’t see her yesterday.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me?” Percy said, wondering if he should feel hurt. Probably not, but he did anyway.
“You had duties, and I wasn’t planning on staying as long as I did,” Nico said. “I ran into Jason, so we had dinner.” This time Percy was sure he shouldn’t be jealous, but he was. How had he been so unsure about this before, when everything was so blatantly obvious now?
“It’s okay, I was just worried you’d run off somewhere,” Percy managed. Nico frowned at him.
“I promised to stay a couple of days, right?” he said. “I didn’t think visiting Camp Jupiter was such a big deal.”
“It’s not,” Percy assured him. “I just kind of missed you at dinner. Eating alone is boring.”
“You could have sat with somebody else. We break the rules all the time now anyways,” Nico pointed out, and Percy blinked. He hadn’t even considered it.
Nico shook his head, looking amused. “How on earth did an idiot like you manage to save the world twice?”
“I had help,” Percy smiled, playfully putting an arm around him. Nico blushed and shrugged him off.
“Gods, you’re clingy,” he muttered, walking off towards his collection of books. Percy stood watching him, trying not to stare at his ass as he bent down to pick one up.
“Does it bother you?” Percy asked seriously.
Nico frowned. “Does what bother me?”
“Me touching you,” Percy clarified, and Nico’s eyes widened for a moment as he turned even redder.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I do. I think we need to talk about it,” Percy pressed on, watching as Nico grew frustrated.
“What do you want me to say?” he asked. “You know how I feel! You have no right to torment me about this!”
“Nico, calm down,” Percy said gently, walking over to put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m not trying to torment you.”
“Then what are you trying to do?” Nico asked angrily. “I know I’m an idiot for feeling this way for someone I can never have, but that doesn’t...”
“Hey, slow down. You’re not an idiot,” Percy interrupted. “And who says you can never have me?”
“You did,” Nico said, tense as a bowstring under Percy’s hand.
“No, I didn’t. I said I was with Annabeth. Which I’m not anymore.”
Nico glared at him, but Percy could see how shaken he was by the worlds. “Please stop making fun of me.”
“I’m not. I’m trying to tell you I think I like you back,” Percy said and Nico went completely still in front of him. “Look, I realize that you probably don’t believe me, but it’s the truth.”
“So you’re saying,” Nico said dangerously. “That a week after the girlfriend you loved broke up with you, you’ve suddenly fallen for me. That’s bullshit!”
“It’s not sudden. This started before Annabeth ended it with me,” Percy said. “Hell, even my mother noticed and asked if we were together, but I didn’t know for sure how I felt until this morning.”
“Really?” Nico asked skeptically. “And what happened this morning that was so special?”
Percy blushed deeply. “I woke up with you in my arms,” he said, not really wanting to tell Nico the whole story. “I wouldn’t mind that happening every morning.”
“I pushed you off the bed,” Nico reminded him, flustered. Percy couldn’t help laughing at that.
“I thought it was cute,” he admitted. “I mean it, Nico. I want this.”
“And I’m supposed to, what? Just let you have whatever you want?” Nico said stubbornly.
“Not unless it’s also what you want,” Percy said, smiling at him. “What is it you want, Nico?”
Percy could see his resolve crumbling, but he remained in place. Still smiling, Percy slowly moved forward to stroke Nico’s cheek, causing him to hitch for breath. His eyes had never been darker, more scared or more hopeful, and Percy closed the distance between them, bringing their lips together.
As kisses go, it really wasn’t all that remarkable, but the fact that it was Nico sent shivers down Percy’s spine. He was trembling, desperate and inexperienced, and Percy reveled in the sensation, taking his time to explore and enjoy the quiet moans Nico was making. The sudden taste of saltwater made him pull back. He could see tears streaming down Nico’s face.
“Nico, what’s wrong?” Percy asked, horrified. “Did I do something?”
Nico shook his head violently, sobbing with what he had probably intended as laughter. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“Nico, please. Just tell me,” Percy begged, stroking a tear from his face.
Nico took a deep, shaking breath. “I’m terrified.”
“Of what?” Percy asked gently, guiding Nico to sit down with him on the bed. The boy was trembling.
“Of waking up,” Nico said quietly. “Of this being just another dream.”
“It’s not a dream,” Percy said, pulling him into an embrace. “This is real. I’m real.”
“Please don’t let go of me,” Nico whimpered, and Percy ran his fingers soothingly through Nico’s hair.
“I’ll never let you go again,“ Percy promised, which seemed to reassure him. Nico reached up to pull him in for another kiss. He was a bit bolder, but no less desperate. Things quickly moved in a less innocent direction. Nico was practically in Percy’s lap now, and Percy involuntary groaned as Nico’s thigh brushed against his groin. Nico looked at him in surprise, a grin spreading on his face as Percy blushed.
“You actually want me, don’t you?” Nico said, half teasing and half baffled, like he couldn’t quite believe it before. Percy rolled his eyes.
“Obviously,” he said, gasping as Nico brushed against him again, not so accidentally this time. “I thought about you in the shower today, you know. Of course I want you.”
He hadn’t meant to confess that, but the way Nico blushed while looking scandalized made it worth it. Percy grinned. “What? Like you’ve never touched yourself thinking about me.”
“Shut up,” Nico muttered, bringing their mouths together again. Now that a certain line had been crossed, Percy wasn’t content with just that anymore. Blindly he sought the edge of Nico’s shirt, then let his arms either underneath it. Nico moaned into Percy’s mouth as he circled his nipples with his thumbs.
“Arms up,” Percy urged, pulling Nico’s shirt over his head as he obeyed. He removed his own shirt immediately afterwards, grinning at the way Nico was licking his lips while looking at him. “Come here,” he said, pulling the boy back into his arms.
Now that the shirt was no longer in the way, Percy moved on to explore his neck. Judging by the sounds Nico was making he was extremely sensitive there. The sounds went straight to Percy’s groin, and feeling Nico’s hands all over his body didn’t exactly help. Groaning against Nico’s neck he stuck his fingers inside Nico’s waistband.
Percy hesitated. Maybe things were moving too fast? But they had known each other for years and lived together for weeks and gods, he wanted this! Nico made the decision for him, as his hand opened the button on Percy’s own pants and started fumbling with the zipper.
“What are you waiting for?” Nico murmured hotly in his ear, and Percy grabbed his hair to get into a position to kiss him sloppily as he got Nico’s pants open. When Percy stuck his hand inside Nico accidentally bit his tongue.
“Sorry,” Nico said, gasping for breath while Percy grinned at him. He stopped grinning when he felt Nico’s hand in his own pants, rapidly matching his rhythm. Percy moaned into Nico’s neck, increasing the pace and feeling Nico do the same. He sucked at Nico’s throat, Nico bit into his shoulder, and they screamed each other’s names almost simultaneously.
Percy collapsed backwards, bringing Nico down with him on the bed. Both of them were breathing heavily, and Percy pulled Nico closer for another kiss. It was slow this time, no rush, no desperation. After they pulled apart Nico lay his head down on Percy’s arm while Percy ran his fingers through his hair.
“I love you,” Nico murmured sleepily into Percy’s chest. Percy hesitated, looking for the proper answer, but Nico was already asleep.
Did he love Nico? Percy wasn’t sure. He certainly hadn’t thought about him like that until very recently, and things had been moving fast since then. Percy looked fondly down at the sleeping boy beside him. Maybe it wasn’t love, exactly, not yet, but he was sure he wanted this. No matter what, he wasn’t going to screw this up.
Percy woke up at two am again. He tried to go back to sleep, and it should have been easy. Nico was resting his head at Percy’s chest, sleeping peacefully and quite frankly looking beautiful. Percy couldn’t resist leaning down to kiss his eyelid. Nico frowned slightly, but didn’t wake up.
Percy, on the other hand, was wide awake and full of energy. For a moment he played with the thought of waking Nico up for more kissing and groping, but it was rare that he was sleeping so soundly and Percy didn’t want to wake him. Instead he carefully untangled himself from Nico, grabbed a shirt from the floor and went out for a run. The shirt was a bit too tight around his shoulders, and Percy stupidly wondered if he was putting on weight until he realized that he was wearing Nico’s shirt instead of his own. The thought made him smile.
He didn’t stay outside long. The harpies left him alone, but the night air was cold and he was freezing despite the exercise. When he entered the cabin again he saw Nico, awake, bare-chested and apparently searching for something with an angry expression on his face.
“If you’re looking for your shirt, I’m wearing it,” Percy said, and Nico walked up to him looking furious.
“Where the hell did you go?” he asked.
“Calm down, I just went for a quick run,” Percy frowned. “I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. Sorry about your shirt.”
“Forget the stupid shirt,” Nico said, eyes blazing. “I woke up and you were gone. After last night I...”
“Oh gods,” Percy said, realization suddenly hitting him. “Nico, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have just left like that. I wasn’t thinking.”
“Clearly not,” Nico muttered. Percy reached out to touch his hair. Nico flinched, but didn’t push the hand away.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, slowly closing the distance between them and pulling Nico into his arms. “I want you to know I don’t regret what happened. Not at all.”
“Good,” Nico muttered into his shoulder. Percy leaned down to kiss him.
“So, about last night,” Percy grinned as they parted. “You wanna do it again?”
Nico blushed. “These pants are ruined anyway,” he said, unconvincingly feigning nonchalance, and Percy laughed as he led them back towards the bed.
A few days later they were lying in bed, having a lazy morning. Nico was half asleep on Percy’s chest, and Percy was running his fingers through Nico’s hair, which was rapidly becoming a favorite pastime of his. Nico seemed to appreciate it as well, moving his head slightly against Percy’s hand. Percy smiled at him.
“Well, this is a surprise,” Jason’s voice suddenly said, and Nico started awake and looked up. Percy turned his head to see Jason smiling amusedly at them from an IM. “Though not entirely unexpected. I’m happy for you two.”
“What do you want, Jason?” Percy groaned, and Jason expression turned serious.
“It’s about Maria. There’s a problem.”
Percy felt Nico go still against him. “What happened?” he asked, his voice strained.
“It seems like she accidentally electrocuted her foster mother,” Jason said. “Turns out she’s my niece, after all.”
“Electrocuted?” Percy repeated in disbelief. “Maria did?”
“Yeah, the foster mother is fine, though shocked. They’re saying they can’t take care of her anymore,” Jason said. “Apparently there were some other problems as well.”
“Where’s she now?” Nico asked.
“With me.” Jason said. “I thought you might want to come over.”
“Yeah, we’ll be right there.”
“Just put on some clothes first,” Jason said, then his image flickered away.
They arrived in New Rome not ten minutes later, fully dressed and at least somewhat presentable. Maria’s familiar crying was the first thing that reached their ears.
“There you are, thank the gods,” Jason said, walking over with the crying baby in his arms. “Think you can calm her down?”
He handed her over to Nico, who seemed slightly shell shocked. As soon as she was in his arms, though, he smiled and started humming the same melody he always did. She abruptly stopped crying and stared up at him, wide eyed. Then she laughed.
“I’ve never seen her laugh before,” Nico said, stunned.
“Neither has anyone else, I’m sure,” Jason said, clapping him on the back. “They said she’s been crying a lot, probably missing you. They figured it would pass, and I suppose it would have, but then the foster mother touched her one day and got electrocuted.”
“Zeus is a bastard for not recognizing her,” Percy said. “Or her mother.”
“Can’t argue with that, though maybe he thought he was protecting her,” Jason said. “Either way, she doesn’t have anyone else. And with powers like that we can’t give her to just anyone, either. Even you two might be in danger.”
“We can handle her,” Percy said, throwing an arm around Nico’s shoulder. Nico frowned.
“No, we can’t. We still have no means to support her,” he pointed out. Jason smiled at him.
“I spoke to some people about that, actually.” Jason said. “We’d be able to get you two an apartment here in New Rome, if you like. You could even enroll at the university.”
“Really? But we can’t afford it,” Nico said.
“Your father is the god of wealth, isn’t he?” Percy said. “Couldn’t he help?”
“He’s not big with the whole allowance-thing,” Nico said. Jason laughed.
“Don’t worry. You’re under Camp Jupiter's protection, being war heroes and all that,” he said. “We’re not going to let a grandchild of Jupiter starve. Besides, I’m sure everyone else would be happy to help.”
“That sounds great!” Percy smiled, pulling Nico closer. “What do you say? Wanna have a baby?”
Nico blushed deeply. “I think we already have one,” he said. Percy leaned down to kiss him.
Things would work themselves out.